No warning before pepper spray, Santa Monica College students say
As Santa Monica College officials launched an investigation into a pepper spraying incident, students said Wednesday that campus police dispersed the spray on protesters at a trustees meeting without warning.
A group of about 100 students were protesting Tuesday night against a plan to offer higher-priced courses at the college, chanting "Let us in, let us in" and "No cuts, no fees, education should be free."
Some protesters suffered minor injuries as campus police tried to stop them from disrupting the meeting during a public comment period. Several were overcome when pepper spray was released just outside the meeting room.
At a student news conference Wednesday on the campus library steps, student Kayleigh Wade, 19, said she was at the meeting and that police began using the pepper spray without warning.
"There is no way to justify this behavior by police officers," she said.
“What else was he to do?” Sevilla said of an officer who used pepper spray.
Student trustee Joshua Scuteri, said he understands both sides of the fee issue. "The kids are righteous in their angst, and the trustees are righteous in what they're trying to do, but they're misguided."
After the news conference, students again began changing: "No cuts, no fees, education should be free. Students united will never be divided." A few wore white T-shirts that read: "I was pepper sprayed.”
During the meeting Tuesday night, photographers with the college’s Corsair newspaper had front-row seats to the pepper-spraying incident.
“It was utter mayhem,” said Michael Price, 68, a photography student and on staff with the paper. Price’s photo of Jasmine Delgado, 19, captures her distress as she was surrounded and grabbed by two campus security officials.
The trustees were considering a proposal to offer higher-priced courses at the college this summer to help students who have been shut out of the classes they needed to transfer to four-year universities.
As security officers -- a combination of police and parking enforcement officials, according to Price -- tried to maintain order, student Michael Yanow, 30, photo editor with the Corsair, captured a shot of one officer raising a baton against students.
“I could see the spray of pepper spray coming out of the room,” said Yanow, who stood in the hallway. “It was the last of the blast.”
Some 50 students attempted to gain entrance to the meeting, Yanow said, more than twice the number of available seats. Security officers tried to direct them into another room where the meeting was being broadcast on a closed-circuit monitor.
“Police opened the door to the board room to those who had numbers for reserved seating,” Yanow said. “Once doors were opened, multiple people tried to go in, and the cops were pushing them back, repeating that you can’t come in because you don’t have a ticket.”
Once the pepper spray was discharged, students ran in the opposite direction. Delgado was taken to the hospital with minor injuries.
“I was in the front trying to push people away from the door,” said Delgado, who is vice president of the student government. “I was trying to help another girl but the police knocked me down in the middle of it all and I landed on my arm. They didn't call paramedics until 20 minutes later. I definitely think the reaction was unnecessary.”
Marioly Gomez was also taken to the hospital. “I was in the back and just got pepper sprayed without warning,” said Gomez, 21. “Another student came and picked me up and took me to the bathroom. Firefighters hosed me down with water, then I went to the hospital and they hosed me down again.”
Afterward, both Delgado and Gomez returned to campus where trustees continued to meet and there was a demonstration to protest the college’s actions.
Trustee David B. Finkel called for a thorough investigation of the incident.
“I'm very upset by the pepper spraying and the administration should do a post mortem to find out why it happened and if it was necessary, because I think it gave the college a black eye,” Finkel told fellow trustees.
-- Stephen Ceasar, Carla Rivera and Thomas Curwen